Friday, November 14, 2008

Christ-Centered Preaching: A Review

Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2007.
399 pp. $29.99

Christ-Centered Preaching is an introductory manual to expositional preaching. The author, Bryan Chapell, is professor of practical theology and president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis Missouri. He also served as a pastor for many years. He earned his Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University.

Christ-Centered Preaching is comprehensive in scope. First, Chapell seeks to inform on how best to prepare an expository sermon by discussing how to organize, develop and deliver it. The book also seeks to inform the student about the necessity of preaching Christ-centered sermons from any text in the Bible. He discusses the problems with a “Be” sermon, which is a sermon that proclaims ethical instruction but lacks the redemptive message of Christ. He argues that this type of sermon will only discourage those who are listening because it implies that the power of our ethical performance is in us rather than through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. He is also concerned that this type of sermon will lead to a theology of self justification and ultimately to despair and/or legalism. He does not argue against preaching ethical commands but that our message must be informed by the cross of Christ. Also, he points out that our obedience should not come from fear of damnation but rather through thankfulness to the God of the gospel.

Many people might be afraid that preaching Christ from a section of scripture that does not mention him explicitly is to impose on the text an unwarranted point of application. That is exactly what expositional preachers want to avoid! They might be concerned, for example, with someone taking a passage from the Old Testament historical books and “Christianizing” them. However, he makes the point that we interpret the historical flow of the Old Testament through the eyeglasses of the New Testament and points out that the focus of all of scripture is on Jesus Christ (John 5:39,46;Luke 24:27). He also warns that there is a necessity to preach Christ, arguing that the only true hope and motivation for ethical transformation is not found in mere commands but in the Christ of the gospel. He writes, “…no text tells us what we can do to complete ourselves or to make ourselves acceptable to God (by our actions), for then we would not be truly fallen. No passage tells us how to make ourselves holy (as though we could achieve divine status by our own efforts). The Bible is not a self-help book. Scriptures presents one, consistent, organic message. It tells us how we must seek Christ, who alone is our Savior and sources of strength, to be and do what God requires. To preach what people should be and do and yet not mention him who enables their accomplishment warps the biblical message ( 277).”

It was encouraging for me to read a preaching book that labored, both to be faithful to the theme of the individual sermon text as well as the main theme of the Bible; Christ and him crucified. The book did a good job focusing on the theology of preaching as well as on how to preach. Its greatest strength is that it is comprehensive in its approach. For instance, he covers everything form grammatical outlining of the text, the mechanics and importance of sermon illustrations, commentary, and language tool recommendation to a sustained argument for preaching Christ in every sermon from all of scripture.

In light of the above, I whole heartedly recommend this book to any student of preaching. It is a great place to begin as you develop your ability to create a biblical sermon. Chapell has succeeded in writing a theologically driven, textually accurate, gospel saturated and listener sensitive introduction to homiletics.

Written by Stephen Stanford

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